As he was fired as minister, Shas leader Aryeh Deri said Sunday there was never any doubt that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would comply with last week’s High Court ruling ordering his dismissal from ministerial roles.
Netanyahu made his decision to fire Deri “with a heavy heart” after the court ruled that the party chief’s appointment as a minister was “unreasonable,” due both to his past criminal convictions and his promise last year to withdraw from political life as part of a plea bargain that he ostensibly did not honor.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu slammed the court’s “unfortunate decision” to disqualify Deri. He said it ignored “the will of the people, as shown by the considerable trust that the public placed in the elected representatives who sit in my government, when it was clear to all that you would serve in the cabinet as a senior minister.”
The premier vowed “to seek any legal way you can continue to contribute to the State of Israel with your experience and many talents, in accordance with the will of the people.”
“I hear the sadness in your voice over the court decision and its consequences,” Deri said in response to Netanyahu.
“I have no intention, I never had an intention and I never pledged to withdraw from political life,” the Shas leader claimed, in reference to the plea deal he made last year. “Things were clearly set on the table from the start of the discussions until their end.”
“I have a solid duty to 400,000 people who voted for me and Shas. No judicial decision can prevent me from serving as their representative,” Deri added, saying he will continue in his role as a Knesset member and chair of Shas.
The dismissal is set to take effect on Tuesday, just 26 days after the premier swore in Deri along with the rest of his right-wing, far-right, and ultra-Orthodox government. Deri will retain his mostly honorific vice premier title, his spokesman confirmed. It is unclear whether this will give Deri the ability to attend cabinet meetings as an observer.
Shas has pushed for Netanyahu to find a way to bring Deri back into the government.
It is unclear who will replace Deri. Normally, when a minister quits, his portfolios automatically revert to the prime minister for a temporary period until a new minister is appointed. But since Netanyahu is under criminal indictment in connection to separate corruption investigations, he is blocked by law from holding any cabinet seat, sans the premiership.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid labeled the government a “circus” in his response to Deri’s dismissal as well as Religious Zionism’s boycott of the cabinet meeting.
“In the government meeting today they fired Minister Deri because of corruption, but what about the Religious Zionism ministers who were absent, protesting the defense minister who abides by the law,” Lapid said, referencing the far-right party’s opposition to Yoav Gallant’s decision to demolish an illegal West Bank outpost dedicated to Rabbi Chaim Druckman on Friday.
“The elderly, students, the cost of living, violence on our streets, parents, and youth. Israeli citizens don’t need to pay the price of corruption and the insanity of this government,” Lapid added.
National Unity chair Benny Gantz said: “Netanyahu did well to follow the High Court ruling and fire Aryeh Deri, despite the political difficulty and disagreement.”
“With that, I’m very sad we reached a situation in which carrying out a court decision has become not so clear-cut,” he added.
Housing and Construction Minister Yitzchak Goldknopf, whose ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party is also part of the ruling coalition, praised Deri as “one of the most excellent and talented ministers, a great man of action.”
“It is not for nothing that hundreds of thousands of citizens voted for him. I heard from the prime minister that in security cabinet meetings, his wisdom was expressed in an influential way and meaningfully contributed to the security of the country,” Goldknopf said, vowing that UTJ would continue to treat Deri as a minister.
Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.